How did I finish reading 218 historical monographs in one year?

2020-06-13 | By Historian | Filed in: Character.

Zhang Yi (Department of History, Taiwan Political University)

2017 is a “great leap forward” in reading for me, doubling from 115 in 16 years to 231 in 17 years. My major is history, so the books I read are mainly history, totaling 218 books. In addition, 33 history books only skim or select some chapters. To be able to read this number is not only to prepare for the graduation thesis, but also to spur oneself after embarking on the academic road. Of course, it is also related to the continuous improvement of reading and note-taking skills.

ImitationPaul A. Cohen’s “Three Tones of History: Boxers as Events, Experiences and Myths” (Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2005)The three tones of modern history: “details”, “context” and “global perspective” are the three key words that I have condensed after reflecting on my reading experience throughout the year. I will use this as a series of excellent books I have read throughout the year and try my best to provide readers with the most interesting reviews of good books.

The first is “details”. History emphasizes evidence, and if there is one point of evidence, there will never be two points. This is the first criterion to distinguish “historical inventors” from historical researchers. Historical materials with boring content, poor typesetting and difficult reading are often required courses and stepping stones for those who want to enter the gate of historiography. I do not recommend such awkward and unfriendly original historical materials as “the whole story of preparing for foreign affairs” or “the series of materials on modern Chinese history”, because the historical materials on modern history are by no means completely so boring, and there are also those who are so interested in reading that they are unwilling to release them.

One of the most prominent features of modern history is the “unprecedented change in thousands of years”-large-scale contact with foreigners. Europeans’ observation and records of China under different cultural backgrounds have left us valuable and interesting first-hand information. Foreigners who came to China in the early days were mostly Christian missionaries, such asLi Ming’s China Recent News Report (1687-1692) (Elephant Publishing House, 2004)AndMa Guoxian’s Thirteen Years of Qing Dynasty: Memoirs of Ma Guoxian in China (Shanghai Ancient Books, 2004 Edition)The Qing Dynasty depicted in China comes at a time when the territory is getting wider and the country is winning day by day. This great Eastern civilization triggered a “Chinoiserie” in Europe and shone brilliantly in the Enlightenment. However, China’s image was not entirely positive in the 18th century.Raymond Dawson’s “Chinese Chameleon: China’s Image from a Western Perspective” (Li Yi Press, 2005)It reviews all kinds of Western imagination of China since Marco Polo’s time, including both praise and denigration. Therefore, the title of the book takes Chameleon as a metaphor, which can be described as ingenuity.

With the turn of the century, when the 18th century, as Louis Antoine Saint-Just said, was “sent to the Pantheon,” China’s glory was overshadowed by Europe in the 19th century, and the style of foreigners in China depicting China gradually darkened. Nevertheless, benevolent missionaries such as É variste R é gis Huc are“Journey to the Chinese Empire” (2 volumes, Nanjing Publishing House, 2006 Edition)It is impressive whether it is a sympathetic record of the porter who lived hard in the Hengduan Mountains and waited for his soul to be redeemed, or a playful depiction of the funny Sichuan officials who accompanied him all the way back to Guangdong. Gubocha’s works are far better than those of his predecessors in both emotion and style of writing, and even those who came after him. It can be said that they are the best travel notes of foreigners in China I have ever read.

What foreigners bring is not only religious “salvation”, but more shameless aggression relying on the strength of ships and guns.Translation of Yuanmingyuan Disaster (28 volumes in total, Chinese and Western Book Company, 2011-2013 Edition)The memoirs written by the participants in the 1860 Battle of Beijing by the Anglo-French Allied Forces included often carry the fierce light of the invaders. However, these memoirs are not necessarily completely abominable, Some people were shocked by the brave Qing soldiers in the Battle of Baliqiao, and some also truthfully recorded their own evil deeds (such as the French eating dog meat, the British lettering on the ruins, etc.). It seems that these Chinese bad habits, which are often condemned by foreigners today, were exactly what they enjoyed 100 years ago.

There are also such things asDugard’s “Thirty Years of Fengtian: Dugard Christie’s Experience and Memories” (Hubei People’s Publishing House, 2007)AndArlington’s “Qinglong Passing the Eye” (Zhonghua Book Company, 2011 Edition)They are also excellent memoirs. Although not every sentence of the works I recommend above is an admissible historical fact, it provides countless wonderful details. Sometimes reading these materials, it seems that you are in the space and time of the 19th century and feel “er? It turns out that people a hundred years ago thought so, or” ah! What they have done is the same as what people do today “. Historians’ work is to extract historical discussions from these endless details, but the latter is already a cold specimen slice, no longer with the temperature and vividness of the former. Therefore, we might as well understand these words with a relaxed mind. Even if we are not a history lover, these memoirs and travel notes can also be read as literary works, which are equally interesting.

Although the details of branches, leaves and leaves are fascinating, they are, after all, only a tree or even a leaf in the thousands of hectares of jungle. Researchers should not only see a leaf, but also know the whole picture and grasp the long-term (Longue dur é e) context of historical development.R. Bin Wong, in “Changing China: Historical Changes and Limitations of European Experience” (Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 1998)China’s modern history is divided into two clues: “the development of capitalism” and “the establishment of a nation-state” in order to compare the historical experiences of China and the West in series. This observation is extremely insightful and helps to grasp the overall situation and context of China’s modern history. In the book I read this year, I can also sort out two such clues.

First, let’s talk about the course of the nation-state. As for the beginning of modern times, I agree with the view that it began in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, while modern China was born out of the Qing Empire, so naturally it should start with the founding of the Manchu Dynasty.Frederic Evans Wakeman’s “Hong Ye: The Founding History of Qing Dynasty” (New Star Publishing House, 2017 Edition)With epic language and touching narrative style, it depicts the exciting and extremely tense historical drama during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It is a rare masterpiece with both professionalism and readability. However, “Hongye” takes the Qing people as its perspective, and if it takesLynn A. Struve’s History of the Southern Ming Dynasty: 1644-1662 (Shanghai Bookstore Publishing House, 2007)In order to supplement, we can make up for the stories forgotten by Hongye from the perspective of various regimes in the Southern Ming Dynasty.

In the 1840s, the century-old “Hongye” of the Qing people was already riddled with holes. Apart from Mao Haijian’s famous “The Collapse of China: A Re-study of the Opium War”, I would like to recommend the followingJulia Lovell’s Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and China’s Construction (New Star Publishing House, 2015)AndFrederic Wakeman’s Stranger at the Gate: Social Unrest in South China from 1839 to 1861 (Shiying Publishing House, 2004)

The former’s writing skill is not inferior to Mao Haijian’s but better than the use of British historical materials, while the latter’s investigation of the social impact of the Opium War on South China is even more impressive. “Strangers at the Gate” ended with the Anglo-French coalition forces subduing Guangdong’s anti-foreigners activities. However, this does not mean that China, which is increasingly armed, has stopped its tenacious struggle with various forces trying to dominate itself. This trend has reached extremes in the 20th century, so that its advantages in organizational capability have been offset by the bottleneck of natural resources.Huang Daoxuan’s Tension and Limit: Revolution in the Central Soviet Area (1933-1934) (Social Science Literature Publishing House, 2011)That is to say, during the “Fifth Counter-encirclement and Suppression” campaign, the Central Soviet Area failed to “counter-encirclement and suppression” because it reached the limit of ecological bearing capacity due to previous bitter struggles, and had to give up Jiangxi to start the Long March. This research has attracted considerable attention and won many favorable comments.

Incidentally, there are two books on the theme of nation-building and thought-education.Yang Ruisong’s “Sick Man, Yellow Peril and Sleeping Lion: Chinese Image from the Perspective of” West “and Imagination of Modern Chinese Nation Discourse” (Zhengda Press, 2016 Edition)This paper discusses how the three stereotypes of “sick man”, “yellow peril” and “sleeping lion”, which originally originated from the West but have different connotations today, were “self-orientalized” by the Chinese and used in the construction of national imagination. It is worth mentioning thatFrank Dik ö tter’s “Race Concept in Modern China” (Renmin University Press, Beijing, 2011)It is interesting to discuss the same issue from the perspective of racism.Li Zhongqing and others are “Silent Revolution: A Study on the Social Sources of Students in Peking University and Suzhou University 1949-2002” (Life, Reading and New Knowledge Joint Publishing, 2013 Edition), it uses the method of metrological history to show the changes of China’s higher education after the founding of the People’s Republic of China-education is the most stable cornerstone for the construction of the country.

Besides “the development of capitalism”. Accurately speaking, it should be China’s economy and the world. But the first thing to understand is what capitalism is,Immanuel Wallerstein’s Historical Capitalism (Social Science Literature Publishing House, 1999)This thin pamphlet reveals the essence of the capitalist system.

Turn the time back to the era when the new air route was opened. Since then, the tide of commercialization has swept through every corner of the world inexorably. Ming Taizu’s harsh and ascetic social norms have been mercilessly mocked by the sound of music.Timothy Brook’s “Confusion of Longitudinal Music: Commerce and Culture in Ming Dynasty” (Guangxi Normal University Press, 2016 Edition)That is, there is a very vivid description of this. It was undoubtedly the power of trade that pushed forward the commercialization process in the late Ming Dynasty.Kenneth Pomeranz’s “The World Created by Trade” (Shaanxi Normal University Press, 2008)Tell us one by one how the map of the world is shaped by the power of trade.

However, trade-led “Smith-style growth” and primitive industrialization are both facing inevitable ecological bottlenecks.Robert B. Marks, Tiger, Rice, Silk and Mud: Environment and Economy in South China in Late Imperial Period (Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2011)AndPomeranz’s “Great Diversion: China, Europe and the Formation of Modern World Economy” (Juliu Book, 2004 Edition)This paper discusses the environmental bottleneck in the pre-industrial era faced by China and the West and their different solutions. Later history also showed that the West successfully broke through the environmental bottleneck and “Malthus trap” and entered a high-speed growth by virtue of two quite accidental factors of coal and colonies, while China was caught in environmental disasters.Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley, “Iron Tears: 19th Century China’s Cultural Response to Hunger” (Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2011)It depicts the painful memory of the Chinese people during the “Ding Wu Qi Huang”. The road to industrialization requires a huge price. The West has colonies that can be passed on, while China can only exploit itself. If we have a deeper understanding of China’s past, we can truly understand and enjoy the benefits brought about by the current industrialization.

Global Perspective
Grasping the two clues of national construction and economy, we can see the “forest” of modern Chinese history. However, if we want to have a broader vision, we need to look at each other with the “forest” of the world, that is, we need to have a global vision and compare with Chinese history. This year, we have read relatively little about the history of other countries, but as far as country history is concerned, Asia has read the country history of Malaysia, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam and India. The European part read the national history of Italy, France, Britain, Spain and the Baltic Sea. In addition to these worksThe History of Malaysia by Barbara Watson (China Encyclopedia Publishing House, 2011)Apart from being quite readable, everything else is rather boring. Therefore, the following four recommended books are those that I think are excellent and helpful to form a broad vision.

First of allGerald Horne’s “Racial War: White Supremacy and Japan’s Challenge to the British Empire” (Hiking Culture, 2017 Edition)This book gives a brand-new interpretation of the Pacific War from the perspective of racial war. If from the perspective of racial discrimination and colonial empire, Japan’s role in World War II will undergo subversive changes, from imperialist invaders to “spokesmen of colored people”. Although the author does not want to overturn the verdict for Japan’s crime of aggression, readers cannot forget how the racism of white people in Britain and the United States smeared a “victory of mankind”.

Equally unacceptable areTony Judt in “History of Post-War Europe” (4 volumes in total, CITIC Publishing House, 2014 Edition)China pointed out that the peace in Europe should be attributed to the genocide of Hitler and others to a large extent. On the one hand, genocide erased Europe’s mixed ethnic groups and created a relatively single, clear boundary between one nation and one country. On the other hand, genocide also wiped out all the privileged classes in old Europe that remained after World War I. These two “achievements” are the fundamental basis for Europe to rebuild a welfare society. History is so ironic here.

If you have any doubts about this, then refer toGeoffrey Wawro’s “The Death of Habsburg: The Outbreak of the First World War and the Disintegration of Austria-Hungary” (Left Bank Culture, 2014 Edition), we can know a little about the internal and external challenges faced by the country composed of mixed nationalities in old Europe.

Turn the perspective back to Asia,Bruce Cumings’ Parallax: The Relationship between the United States and East Asia (Life, Reading and New Knowledge Joint Publishing, 2016)It also gives a very different interpretation from common sense to the World War II and the post-war East Asian world, such as reevaluating Japan’s subordinate position in the world capitalist system and overturning the verdict for the North Korean regime.

The above four books have subverted the original discourse system from different angles and provided us with a new vision of history, which is the necessary quality for a good researcher.
How to Take Reading Notes
Finally, I would like to talk about the topic of taking reading notes.

Is reading notes important? It is absolutely important, because judging from one’s reading speed, if one does not take notes, one may forget most of the contents when one closes the pages after reading. However, if you take good reading notes, it is almost equal to rereading them again, and the content you remember will greatly increase. This is an effective way to strike a balance between reading speed and quality.

Do you need large excerpts from reading notes? Depending on the circumstances. My original reading notes did have the habit of excerpting large sections, so that at the end of the year there were more than 800,000 words (notes of more than 100 books). Later, I felt that this was not only a waste of time but also seemed unnecessary. So I made the following changes: When reading, circle the key words and key sentences that embody the logic of the discussion instead of the whole paragraph. If there are no clear key words and sentences, after reading each chapter, think and sum up a chapter theme and write it on a piece of paper to clip it into the book. After reading, recall the logic of the chapter and even the whole book according to the circled key words. When taking notes, use as brief a summary as possible, which can save time and effort.

That is to say, just extract the keywords and connect them in series? Not necessarily, one of the most obvious exceptions is that when writing an article needs to quote the original text of a certain passage, it is to extract the full text without moving a word. Of course, there are also many “opportunistic” methods, such as finding the PDF document of the e-book, then only marking “see page XX” on the notes, and looking through the original PDF document when necessary. However, it must be said that there is a reason for the older generation of scholars to copy files by hand. The process of copying is a kind of memory process. Now few people copy files by hand, but it is firmer to remember them by hand than simply marking page numbers. Only in this way can we truly digest historical materials instead of forgetting them after reading them. Although the process is painful, it is necessary training.

There are still several points to pay attention to when taking reading notes. First of all, we must not forget to publish information. The author, title, place of publication, publishing house and date of publication cannot be less than one. If the foreign language translation work is a foreign language translation work, it is better to record the original foreign language name. Secondly, the page number of the excerpt must not be forgotten, otherwise you will regret not finding the original text when using it. Finally, you can make a brief evaluation of the logic, writing style and key contents of the book at the end or at the beginning, so as to gradually cultivate your reading taste. It would certainly be better to write a book review carefully. Here I recommendGe Jianxiong Waiting for “Who Will Decide Who We Are” (Yilin Publishing House, 2013 Edition)This is a collection of book reviews, which can be used as a good model for beginners to learn how to write book reviews.

In addition, don’t neglect the references behind the text. The references given in the text are the avenues for further research in the research, and are also the results of the author’s painstaking review of academic history. They should be made good use of.

Reprinted from Public Number: History Postgraduate Entrance Examination and Employment

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